This post originally ran in USA Today in 2011.
The 2013 edition of the NHL draft has come and gone, with the next crop of potential stars being divvied up between the league’s 30 teams, each with his own personal goals heading into the upcoming season. Some will make the big club, some will stay in junior, but all will be indoctrinated into the ways of their organization over the course of this summer.
The steps each kid follows might be slightly different from team to team, but most will follow a simple path to next season that looks something like this:
After draft day, the process of actually making and contributing to an NHL team begins, and that can’t happen until you know all the people you’ll be working with. You meet a few of your team’s front-office folks and core players at the draft, but not everybody attends the actual event. In fact, the majority of the players don’t go, given the stage walk/team hat moment isn’t exactly afforded to sixth rounders.
For the guys who don’t go, it’s phone call time (it’s surprisingly impersonal for those who aren’t on-site, actually). The team’s GM and/or coach might make the call, which involves some casual banter, congratulations and a huge helping of praise for the player. You have to get those good vibes flowing early, given that everyone believe they’re actually going to be on the roster at some point. (Suckers.)
With that comes the promises to be in touch more in the future (which rarely happens), and a jersey will be sent out to all the kids selected who didn’t attend.
The next step is to get in the best possible shape to fulfill your potential, but it’s tough for a team to devise a custom workout plan for players without putting them through more tests, seeing them on the ice against bigger men, and talking with them about their goals. So, next comes …
“Rookie camp” is really “prospects camp,” as all the organization’s recent draft picks (including the odd player who actually played as a rookie on the NHL team the year before) come together for a few days.
There, you get to know your future teammates, which makes it easier when you finally show up for training camp. You have individual meetings with the brass, but more important, they get to see you in action. That means it’s fitness testing, training and on-ice practice time with the odd scrimmage mixed in for good measure. As the week progresses, relationships form, and you start to feel some affiliation with the program.
Using the metrics they accumulate during tests over those few days, they’re able to put together your …
Custom workout plan
I was a tallish, lean player who struggled to put on weight, let alone stop losing it during the season. I drank protein shakes after practice, ate like a horse after games and chewed protein bars like my life depended on it. Still, I was too easy to knock off pucks, so my custom summer plan involved minimal on-ice action, not a ton of cardio and a lot of power lifting. Or at least that’s what they wanted me to do. (I just wanted to play hockey, so I probably did a little too often.)
Another player might have a plan that’s the complete opposite of that. Whatever your shortcomings are, the organization you’re committed to has their strength and conditioning guys devise a packet that clearly states your daily plan in the gym (with all exercises increasing in weight as the summer goes on).
Hopefully after a few months of solid physical work, you’re almost ready for the biggest step of all:
Once you’ve met the guys, skated with your fellow picks, and got yourself fit as a fiddle, it’s time for the real hockey.
The coveted draft picks show up earlier than the rest of the bums angling for a roster spot and get themselves settled, sometimes as early as a week before. That team name beside their own name guarantees that they’ve been given every opportunity to be comfortable and play at their best (which isn’t always the case with undrafted players, for whom their own success depends on actually having a lot of it and standing out), and the days leading up to training camp allow them to get back into the groove of things in their new city.
But once that camp gets under way, nobody can hold their hand anymore. They were chosen because the team believes they have the potential to be contributors at the top level, and there comes a time when they have to prove it.
From the draft to that first moment, it has been all back-pats, reassurance and assistance, and that time ends when the season begins. They become another player trying to make it, and while the team is rooting for them to do so, it’s finally up to them to take charge.
One prospect, Jonathan Drouin, has already put in his time at prospect camp. Check out a couple of these goals: